October 31, 2014

It's real simple for the Cleveland Cavaliers - win one of their final three games and clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference. For the Chicago Bulls, though, even winning their remaining three contests likely will not be enough to get them into the postseason.

These Central Division teams on the opposite ends of the playoff spectrum meet Saturday night at the United Center.

The Cavaliers (56-23) are three games ahead of Toronto with four to play, so beating Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit will give them home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.

"All of our guys are in the lineup (Saturday), so we obviously want to play well," James said after practice Friday. "Chicago is a team that has had a lot of ups and downs since the All-Star break but they always tend to play well against us."

James will be well-rested for this contest since he sat out Wednesday's 123-109 loss at Indiana, Cleveland's highest point total allowed since coach Tyronn Lue took over. With his superstar returning, Lue has already put the loss out of mind and is more concerned with keeping his team on point for the final week of the season.

"(We want to stay in) the rhythm we've been in the last five games, outside the Indiana game," Lue explained. "Staying in an offensive flow and our defense has been really good, just staying in that flow and rhythm from he last five or six games."

While there isn't much difference in record from predecessor David Blatt to Lue, who is 26-12 since taking over in mid-January, the defense may be a cause for concern. Cleveland has given up 100.7 points per game since he's taken over, slightly above its season mark of 98.1, but the Cavaliers are only 8-6 against the expected Eastern Conference playoff field since he's taken over. Additionally, every Eastern potential postseason opponent but Toronto has scored 100 points against them at least once since Lue replaced Blatt.

Backup point guard Mo Williams will miss this game after flying back to Cleveland to undergo an MRI for a sore knee that has limited him to 28 minutes the past three contests.

The Bulls (39-40) remained mathematically alive only because the Raptors defeated Indiana on Friday, but Chicago needs to defeat Cleveland, New Orleans and Philadelphia while hoping the Pacers lose to Brooklyn, New York and Milwaukee between now and Wednesday.

Coach Fred Hoiberg's team trudged back to the Windy City after back-to-back losses to close a three-game road swing, losing at Memphis on Tuesday and 106-98 at Miami on Thursday. The Bulls are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

''Obviously it's not the way that we wanted,'' guard Jimmy Butler said. ''I think everybody thinks about it each and every day. It probably keeps everybody up late, I know it does for me. But we can't change it now. It is what it is.''

Chicago has dropped seven of its last 10, with the defensive identity it had under previous coach Tom Thibodeau a distant memory. Opponents have shot 46.4 percent and averaged 103.6 points in that span, and the Bulls have also given up six more points per game when combining fast-break points and second-chance points (27-21).

Cleveland didn't solve Chicago until the third and most recent meeting between the teams, a 106-95 win Feb. 18 in which James had 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. The Bulls limited the Cavaliers to 38.8 percent shooting in winning the first two games this season.

You May Like